Bengaluru-born model Tina Desai talks about the highs and lows of the fashion industry and how Mumbai became home before she knew it.
On a hot May afternoon five years ago, Tina Desai stepped out of the domestic terminal of the Mumbai airport following her dreams. The first thing that struck her here was the filth and the crowd.
Desai probably imagined the land of her dreams to be tad cleaner. But that was something she would have to work around.
Having just participated in Get Gorgeous III -- she didn't win the show -- Desai decided it best to move from her hometown Bengaluru to Mumbai, India's showbiz capital.
Five years later, Mumbai has become home; her parents have moved in to the city too as has her sister. Having worked in over 94 ads, the Bengaluru-born model is hoping to hit a century and her dreams of becoming an actor are taking shape. She's shot for two films so far. Things, she says, are looking up.
Her recent Hero Honda advert (where a boy drives around town just to wish her good night) has given her much needed mileage and the model isn't complaining.
Here Tina tells Abhishek Mande about coping with the highs and lows of the fashion industry.
Why did you choose to become a model?
I always wanted to act but didn't want to follow the acting classes route. Modelling, I thought, would give me the right kind of exposure, experience as well as the contacts needed to get into films.
And when did the acting bug bite you?
(Laughs) I think I was in the eighth grade when I watched (Shah Rukh Khan-starrer) Koyla and made up my mind that I was going to act.
Were your parents okay with the idea of you being in showbiz?
My father has been in the film business. He used to be a distributor and exhibitor for films in South India. My mother too was not averse to the idea at all. In fact when I was sure I wanted to act, I was apprehensive of bringing it up with my parents. I was very surprised because when I told them about it, both were very supportive. My mother was very excited too. She encouraged me no end.
'I graduated so I would have a fallback option'
So did you model while you were in college?
Yes, I did quite a few ramp shows for Prasad Bidappa and others.
What have you studied?
I graduated in business management. I've always had a thing for accounts. When I was younger I wanted to be a banker in Deutsche Bank just because I liked its building!
I remember going up to someone to ask them what it takes to work there and they said I needed to complete my BBM (Bachelors in Business Management) in Finance. So that's what I did.
The idea of completing my graduation was also so that I would have a fallback option in case acting didn't work out.
But then Get Gorgeous III happened, I believe. How did that come about?
Soon after my final examinations were over, I saw an advertisement for the auditions of Get Gorgeous III at the Park Hotel. There I was asked a couple of questions about my dreams and ambitions, made to walk the ramp and I left.
Two weeks later they called me back and told me that I was to fly to Sri Lanka. I was on the top of the world!
You did not win the contest though...
No I didn't. But they thought I had a good commercial face so Elite (the modelling agency that powers the show) signed me up nonetheless. I'd been signed up even before the winner signed her contract. So it was cool.
After I signed up with Elite I decided to move to Mumbai because the industry is based here.
How did you adjust to the new culture? What were your first impressions of Mumbai?
The first thing that struck me about this city when I came here in May 2005 was how dirty and crowded it was. I'd get into local trains and look at the amount of filth on the tracks and cringe. For me Bengaluru was home.
As months passed, I began to realise how warm the people here are. Whether it was getting a new gas connection or getting to a particular place, people were always willing to help out.
I also found that my fellow models here were also very forthcoming. That wasn't how it was in Bengaluru. The modelling scene there is quite competitive. So about two years after I first moved to Mumbai I began to feel at home.
How did you cope with living alone in an alien city?
I can't say I was alone. Months after I moved in here my sister joined me -- she wants to act in television serials. Then my parents followed because by then my dad had retired and they were getting bored in Bengaluru. And even in the six months I was by my self they'd visited three to four times.
'In modelling it is important to remain grounded'
What about work? Was it difficult to come by? Did you face any challenges?
I must confess I didn't. Photographer Colston Julian, who was on the panel (of Get Gorgeous), offered to shoot my portfolio and suggested some initial leads for auditions.
In my first week of being in Mumbai I was going for auditions. In the first month itself I got my first advertisement. Weeks later I got my second and three days after that, I had my third!
But the first two weeks were nerve-wracking. I would be going for at least three to four auditions every day and come back with no work. I was beginning to panic but the people at Elite told me that it happens because in commercial modelling a lot depends on the whim of the client. As long as I was getting shortlisted, it was fine.
It's been over five years that you've been in the modelling industry what do you think are the golden rules of the business?
I believe it is important that you remain grounded and not become a person you don't want to be. Personally I am quite critical of myself and keep my head on my shoulders.
Besides I feel it is important to be honest. It makes a lot of difference.
What has been your most memorable ad shoot?
It has to be the Pepsi ad with Shah Rukh Khan. Like all the girls I know, I absolutely adore Shah Rukh Khan. So for over two weeks I was fretting in anticipation. When the day arrived I was at the shooting floor at 7.30 am sharp.
The other girls and I were getting ready when we heard that Shah Rukh was in his van getting his make-up done.
Then at around eleven the entire set went silent. No one spoke and all heads turned to one direction. Someone said Mr Khan had arrived.
Shah Rukh walked towards us in costume and was introduced to us. He shook our hands and we went back to our positions. The moment I reached the spot I started hyperventilating. I couldn't believe I'd met Shah Rukh Khan! It was such an overwhelming feeling I couldn't hold back my tears. It took some half hour of pleading before I was consoled!
'Being skinny helps for modelling, but not for films'
How do you keep yourself fit? What's your diet like?
I've always been skinny, so the challenge for me has been to put on weight. If you're a model it is fine to be that way but if you want to get into films it doesn't always work.
My day starts with breakfast, which would be anything that my mother makes -- be it upma or idli or eggs and toast. There are times when I skip breakfast too, which is not such a good idea.
For lunch it is usually chapatti, rice, dal and subzi. Evening snack usually ends up being a glass of milkshake, which is essentially so I put on some weight. And dinner is almost similar to lunch.
What about your workout?
Again, the idea behind working out for me is to put on weight. So I don't do a lot of cardio. The only cardio exercise I engage in is dancing. Otherwise I do weight training every alternate day -- once for my upper body and then for my lower body. I also practice yoga, which keeps me calm.
What is your personal sense of style?
Simple, classic and elegant. When I'm not working I like being in a pair of comfortable jeans and a top.
Tips on staying beautiful
- Wash your face a lot
- Cleanse, tone, moisturise your skin
- Drink lots of water
- Always do some form of exercise
- Eat right
- Remain positive and happy
- Keep friends close and family closer
What would you advise budding models?
It is important to be well groomed. Be honest with yourself. Believe in yourself and don't always listen to what people have to say. Be good at your job and don't think you'll get it easy. Remain rooted and most of all be patient because things might not always work out the way you want them to.
What do you do when you are not working?
Right now I'm into watching soccer and clay moulding. But it wholly depends on my mood. I've been into reading, before that I was into Farmville then it was watching television and talking on the phone! I come from a close-knit family so we like eating out, checking out malls and watching movies.
Any embarrassing at-work moments?
Oh, there are tonnes of them! I am really bad at names so there have been times when I have been speaking with someone for hours affectionately and I address him/her with the wrong name. It gets really embarrassing but I just cannot remember names!
When did you first realise you were famous?
The thing is I look very different from what I am before the camera. So not many people recognise me. That has been an advantage because I'm pretty much a fresh face. I've done 94 advertisements and the work isn't stopping. So it's good.
What about films? Have any offers materialised?
Yes. I have shot two films -- both of them are in post-production. There's one called Yeh Fasle where I am the protagonist and Anupam Kher plays my father.
I've also just completed shooting for a comedy called Sharafat Gayi Tel Lene. It stars Zayed Khan and Ranvijay.
What are your future plans?
I don't plan for the future because things always turn out to be the opposite of what I've planned for.
Your favourite cuisine: Chinese
Your favourite drink: Pepsi
You love hanging out at: Mocha in Mumbai and Casa Piccola in Bengaluru
The most frequently played songs on your iPod: Something Stupid by Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman, Fate of Black by Metallica and all songs by Eminem
Favourite movies: Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Sound of Music
Best looking Bollywood actors according to you: Madhuri Dixit, Rani Mukerji, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor and Preity Zinta
Favourite books: Harry Potter (series) and all of Sidney Sheldon
The make-up accessories you simply cannot live without: Kajal and lip-gloss
One thing you cannot leave your home without: My cell phone
Your biggest indulgence so far: Chocolates
Your biggest challenge: An intense scene with Anupam Kher in Yeh Fasle.
Your idea of a perfect day: Wake up late, laze around, have lunch, sleep, loaf around in the evening, have dinner out and return home.
Your idea of a perfect date: If the company is good an ideal date could be anything from a game of basketball to a long drive.
Your idea of the perfect man: Shah Rukh Khan in DDLJ
Biggest turn-ons in a man: Good hair and good manners
Biggest turn-offs in a man: Ego
In your spare time you: Play Farmville!
Your biggest fear: That something bad will happen to the people I love.